UN rights council considers systematic abuses inquiry after Gaza conflict

Draft resolution presented by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation will be debated in a special one-day council session

The UN Human Rights Council will on Thursday discuss creating a broad, international investigation into offences during the latest Gaza violence, but also of systematic abuses in the Palestinian territories and in Israel.

The proposal before the United Nations' top rights body calls for an unprecedented level of scrutiny on abuses and their root causes in the decades-long Middle East conflict.

The draft resolution presented by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation will be debated during a special one-day council session focused on the surge in deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians this month.

The session of the 47-member council, called for by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC and the Palestinian Authority, will begin at 0800 GMT with a statement by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki was among those expected to address the session, as was Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva. On Wednesday, she attacked both the session and the draft resolution.

Their "sole purpose", she said, was "to blame Israel, whitewash the crimes committed by Hamas, and for the Palestinian Authority to avoid assuming its responsibilities towards its own population".

The text, expected to be voted on in the afternoon, calls for the council to "urgently establish an ongoing independent, international commission of inquiry … in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in Israel".

The investigators, the text said, should investigate "all alleged violations and abuses" of international law linked to the tensions that sparked the latest violence.

Before a truce took hold last Friday, Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded more than 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict from May 10, the health ministry in Gaza said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet will open a special one-day session of the Human Rights Council to debate the surge in deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians this month. AFP
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet will open a special one-day session of the Human Rights Council to debate the surge in deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians this month. AFP

Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including a child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian citizen and two Thai workers, medics said. At least 357 people in Israel were wounded.

But the draft text goes far beyond the most recent conflict, calling for investigators to examine "underlying root causes of recurrent tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination and repression based on group identity".

The investigation should focus on establishing facts and gather evidence and other material that could be used in legal proceedings, and as far as possible should identify perpetrators to ensure they are held accountable, it said.

"Long-standing and systemic impunity for international law violations has thwarted justice, created a protection crisis and undermined all efforts to achieve a just and peaceful solution," the draft text said.

If the resolution passes, it would create the council's first open-ended commission of inquiry (COI) – the highest-level investigation that can be ordered by the council.

Other COIs, like the one on Syria, require their mandates to be renewed every year.

And while the council has previously ordered eight investigations into rights offences committed in the Palestinian territories, this would be the first one with a mandate to examine root causes in the drawn-out conflict, and also to investigate systematic abuses committed in Israel.

Khalil Hashmi, Pakistan's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said the recent violence was only the latest in a long cycle, and stressed the need for the investigation to have "standing status".

Twenty of the council's 47 members were among the 66 countries that backed holding the special session.

The rights council holds three regular sessions each year, but can hold special sessions with the backing of at least a third of members.

Thursday will be the 30th extraordinary meeting since the council's creation 15 years ago.

It will be the ninth focused on Israel, which has long complained it faces bias in the council. Ms Eilon Shahar said this latest special session was a "further tarnishing [of] the moral values it is supposed to uphold".

She called on all member states "to assume their moral responsibility and oppose the resolution".

Updated: May 27, 2021 01:22 PM

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